It’s felt like there’s been one constant theme for the athletic programs of the University of Kentucky this weekend: defense. After the football team’s impressive defensive stand against the No. 14 Mississippi State Bulldogs Saturday night, the No. 20 Kentucky women’s volleyball team took a play right out of their playbook, posting a whopping 68 digs and 11 team blocks in a gritty win over Tennessee in Knoxville on Sunday to hand the Vols their first home loss of the season (25-17, 20-25, 25-22, 25-23).
On a day when the offense wasn’t quite clicking, Kentucky had to rely on its presence at the net and impressive back-row defense, something that has been lacking at times this season when matches got close. And against a Volunteers team that had already claimed victories over No. 22 Michigan State and No. 16 San Diego earlier in the season, that proved to be no small feat.
Leading the way out of the middle was senior Brooke Morgan, who set a new career-high in blocks with eight along with five kills. Sophomore Kendyl Paris recorded three blocks of her own and six terminations.
The Volunteers saw just how effective Gabby Curry can be, as the sophomore dug up 21 scoops, just one off her career-high. Alli Stumler added 14, Madison Lilley added ten and Leah Edmond and McKenzie Watson contributed 9 respectively.
“I’m happy with our resilience,” head coach Craig Skinnersaid. “We struggled at times and didn’t shy away or back down. The difference in the match was our serving. We really made an impact with our serve – six aces. We had them out of system quite a bit.”
Offensively, the Cats were paced by junior sensation Leah Edmond, who hammered down 23 kills with just six errors and an ace. Stumler added ten, part of her second double-double of the year, along with three aces.
Lilley led the UK offense with 41 assists on the day and registered her third double-double of the year.
The difference in the game, however, proved once again to be the Wildcats’ depth, thanks to some stellar play from senior Merideth Jewell.
“Again, Merideth Jewellcame in and made a huge impression and gave us a huge lift – not just with energy but scoring points with a block and attack,” Skinner said.
The Cats were down 18-12 in the fourth set but finished the match off on a 13-5 run, in part because of the offensive and defensive spark that Jewell provided off the bench. Jewell recorded a kill and a critical block to give the Wildcats the lead for good late in the fourth.
With the win, Kentucky moves to 7-4 on the year and 1-0 in the SEC while Tennessee falls to 10-4 and 1-1 in the conference. The Cats will be back in action Friday when the Arkansas Razorbacks travel to Lexington for a matchup at Memorial Coliseum. First serve is set for 7 pm.